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There have been wide-ranging conversations about the president’s executive order prohibiting entry or reentry to the United States of individuals from certain countries for a period of ninety days — as well as a blanket prohibition on refugee resettlement — and much remains uncertain and in flux as it wends its way through the legal system.

The commission has no mechanism for knowing how many customers of Pennsylvania’s utilities may have been affected by this executive order. However, there is a strong likelihood, given the diversity of Pennsylvania’s 12.5 million residents and as there are half a million legal permanent residents from the identified countries residing in the United States, that some of our neighbors and students at our universities, who, I emphasize, legally reside in the Commonwealth, may well have been temporarily detained or may currently be unable to return to their homes.

This order has the potential to affect employment, education and communities throughout the Commonwealth. Financial stress may well be no small part of the resulting impacts — making it difficult for those affected to remain current with payments to the utilities providing their households with essential services. I am also concerned that language, cultural barriers and, potentially, fear might well inhibit those in need from reaching out — as well as affect our ability to readily recognize and attend to these needs.

Social service agencies have historically been an invaluable point of connection for communities and households, particularly at times of economic stress. Whether responding to the needs of families affected by military deployment oversees, or employment losses, or storm damage, or medical disability, both public and non-profit agencies serve to address the interlocking issues that, cumulatively, can be devastating. The potential for adverse impacts is no less real in the current situation and no less in need for near-term guidance and care.

I encourage all of us, including the Commonwealth’s regulated public utilities and the Commission’s Bureau of Consumer services, to work to recognize and attend to those families who have been adversely affected by this federal directive and to provide assistance, whenever possible, to minimize the risks to essential utility services. All too often difficult cases come before the commission that from the lack of early connection and support have needlessly costly outcomes.

I am an immigrant, as are members and children of my staff, many staff members of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission and many of my former colleagues at EQT Corporation and Carnegie Mellon University — including many from the seven countries identified in the presidential order. I argue that we have a shared responsibility to ensure that members of our communities are able to remain in their homes and maintain utility services during this time that they are unable, by this unforeseeable change in circumstance, to lawfully re-enter or reside in the United States or during the time that their families must manage without them.

— Andrew G. Place is vice chairman of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission.

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